When do you usually check the references for a sales candidate you want to hire?
If you’re like most sales hiring managers, you’re going to make that reference call after you’ve decided which candidate to hire.
Which is completely backwards from how you should do it.
Think about the typical sales hiring process. You post an open position and do a preliminary screening of candidates based on a resume review. You develop a small pool of potential candidates and conduct preliminary interviews via a voice or video call.
From that list you bring in a smaller number of candidates for in-person interviews. From those interviews you decide that two or three candidates are worthy of deeper consideration and they are brought back to be subjected to a series of interviews with a range of people throughout your company.
At that point one candidate stands out from the rest and the internal decision is made to offer the candidate the job, provided his or her references don’t reveal any adverse data. Unfortunately, too many sales managers make conditional offers to sales candidates before references are ever called.
Do you make up your mind to hire someone before you check their references?
Here is the problem: If you’re like most hiring managers, you check that candidate’s references only AFTER you have decided to hire him or her. Isn’t that just a little backwards?
After all, what is the point of conducting reference checks AFTER you’ve developed an emotional stake in a particular candidate? At that point if you hear something negative from a reference about you’re favored candidate, you’re likely to discount it.
Shouldn’t reference checks, instead, be one of the most important data points that are factored into the hiring decision before it is made? In which case, you have to call references before you’ve made a decision about which candidate to hire.
Think about checking references like qualifying a potential prospect. When do you qualify a prospect? At the beginning of your sales process or at the end of it?
Do you invest a substantial amount of your sales time with a potential prospect before you qualify them? Of course you don’t. You know that it is essential to qualify a prospect at the beginning of the selling process. Not only to ensure that they are a fit for your product and service, but to make certain that they’re worth the investment of your limited selling time.
Why don’t you hire salespeople the same way? Check a candidate’s references near the beginning of the interview process. If you are rigorous in the questions you ask in a reference check, then this will help you to weed out candidates that might otherwise slip through.
Here are a few recommendations to upgrade your process for checking references.
Conduct Reference Checks on Your Final Three Candidates
Take the time to thoroughly check out the references (and qualifications) of each of your finalists before you invest the time and manpower to bring them in for their wider interviews. It is extremely important to take this step before you have fallen in love with one particular candidate and become blinded to any of their potential shortcomings.
Ask Questions That Require Factual Answers
Don’t rely solely on questions that require subjective opinions for answers. Ask questions that require factual answers. For example, your candidate states on his resume that he achieved 120% of quota last year. Ask the reference he provided to verify that fact with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Perhaps a candidate claimed that she made President’s Club for 3 years in a row. Ask their reference if that is correct. If a candidate has misrepresented the facts of their track record, then that is disqualifying data.
Ask Questions About Capabilities
The problem with asking questions of references that require subjective answers is that past employers are increasingly leery of saying anything beyond confirming that the candidate worked at their company. A great question to ask a reference is “What advice would you give to John’s boss?” (with John being the name of your candidate.) This appears to be a very neutral question on its surface, and yet it often provokes deceptively perceptive answers about the areas where your candidate needs development. And it opens the door to more in-depth follow-up questions with the reference.
Hiring salespeople is a risky business in the best of circumstances. Why make it harder, and riskier, than it needs to be? Use reference checks as a tool to qualify candidates for a position instead of a just a pro forma part of your due diligence after the fact.